Congratulations to Downtown Lawrence Inc. for putting the issue of extended retail hours back on the table.
The organization has scheduled a “Downtown Retail Summit” for Tuesday to discuss the potential advantage of later hours for downtown shops. It’s obvious that downtown fills up in the evenings with people who come to enjoy dinner, a drink or an entertainment opportunity. Why not add shopping to that list?
Whether extended hours make sense is open to debate, but it seems worth a try. To properly test the potential benefit of longer hours, a large number of downtown retailers would need to commit to standard extended hours that could be promoted to prospective customers. And businesses would need to stick to the extended schedule long enough for customers to get used to it. Six months might be a reasonable period.
Summer seems an ideal time to give this idea a try. Band concerts in the park or a trip to the Lawrence Outdoor Aquatic Center bring potential customers downtown later in the day. Longer daylight hours encourage them to stay a while to shop or dine out. By mid-August students will be returning to Lawrence, which always feeds local business. Home football games and other activities also would contribute to downtown activity.
Downtown retail vacancies seem particularly high right now. We know these things tend to run in cycles, but downtown merchants shouldn’t be satisfied to just keep doing things in the same old way and see what happens. Longer hours may not improve their bottom line, but it’s worth a try.